To Whistle

In my younger days I used to hear various tradesmen like the milkman, coalman, knife sharpener etc. whistle as they went about their daily tasks. Drunks coming out of the pub late at night were either singing or whistling as they staggered along the pavement. Inspired I practiced and practiced until at about the age of fifteen, I thought I was pretty good. Sometimes when Dad was at the piano and we were singing the old songs, I would revert to whistling. I was mostly in tune and even developed the knack of producing the weird vibrato sound that I had seen Al Jolson produce in the “The Jazz Singer.” I seem to remember it was “Tut Tut Tutsey Goodbye” a film that was amongst the first “talkies.” This was many years after its release so it was probably a historic rerun, I was watching. I could even use my index and third fingers of my right hand to form a V shape I could control the whistle better. With my left hand controlling the air sound by oscillating over my right hand I also learnt  to vary the pitch like Larry Adler played his harmonica. Whistling was an art that I revelled in. Many years later a guy called Roger Whittaker came to fame, he had perfected whistling. “Elizabethan Serenade and Mexican Whistler” were  his signature tunes although he was also a very good singer and guitarist.  When he whistled  I could manage to whistle along matching him note for note with all the trills and nuances he produced easily. I learned to do that by simply oscillating my tongue and cheek muscles in synchronisation. I didn’t show those skills to everyone, mostly just the wife and kids, who would all look away in embarrassment at my bravado.

Sadly those days ended nearly three years ago when I had a stroke in February 2014. Putting all my efforts into recovery, it never occurred to me to even try to whistle for some time. I think it was sometime in around 2015 that a favourite Chopin tune was playing over the radio the tune was later turned into a popular song with the words “I’m forever chasing rainbows.” I am very fond of most of Chopin’s work  –this  one that I’d whistled to many times before. To my horror and disbelief I found I could neither carry the tune or timing accurately and could no longer reach either the high or low notes. It came like a sledge-hammer blow of disappointment, which I just couldn’t accept. The opportunity to speak with the doctors and therapists who regularly visited me at home after the stroke, had ended in the summer of 2014. I had maintained, everything was alright with me and I’d not even thought of my whistling prowess in the previous eight months. They’d discovered that I had difficulty in standing on one leg and my left hand was considerably less flexible, but I dismissed their concerns. I stated the obvious: I was a seventy year old man could no longer stand firmly on one leg or pick up tiny objects from one tray and replace. I wasn’t a teenager in other words. Perhaps I was in denial but I reasoned within myself, why would I want to stand on one leg or go through the fruitless and futile exercise of learning to pick up small items with my left hand when my right hand functioned perfectly well.

All in all I suppose, losing the ability to whistle is a small price to pay for the full recovery of my health following that stroke. I suppose if I had the determination to try and regain that ability I could go back to the doctors, try hypnotherapy, or some other cure but since I’ve got a nice home, loving wife and no money worries, I think I’ll just let the matter rest for the future. Anyway I don’t like the doctor much anyway.


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